Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Crucifix on a Golgotha Base

Base by Giuseppe de' Levi (Italian, Verona 1522–1611/14 Verona)
Corpus probably by Unidentified Milanese artist
ca. 1590–1600
Italian, Verona
Corpus: gilt bronze; cross and base: bronze
Overall (Corpus - 76 a) (confirmed): 12 3/8 × 11 1/8 × 3 in. (31.4 × 28.3 × 7.6 cm)
Overall (base - 76b) (confirmed): 4 7/8 × 9 3/4 × 7 1/8 in. (12.4 × 24.8 × 18.1 cm)
Overall (combined) (confirmed): 23 5/8 × 11 1/8 × 7 1/8 in. (60 × 28.3 × 18.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of Irwin Untermyer, by exchange, 1981
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 550
Although this crucifix is a powerfully direct devotional image, its corpus and base are quite obviously from different workshops. Giuseppe de Levis, signer of the picturesque base, could never have managed the finesse of the corpus. It is likely, however—even if it cannot be proved—that the base was made with this particular corpus in mind. They appear to be contemporaneous, and they form a most harmonious composition. It is not too bold to speculate that the first owner of the corpus prized it enough to bring it to Giuseppe de Levis's Veronese workshop to have it mounted.

The gilt corpus is both austere and elegant, the hair framing the face in soft waves. The head of Christ is set almost straight on his neck, not yet fallen, and the face wears an expression of heroic resignation. The hands and feet are chased with exceptional care; one might well consider these the refining touches of a goldsmith. The sculptural style is not easy to localize, but a likely center for it is Milan of the Counter-Reformation. The well-knit, forthright anatomy, the austerity, and the attention to detail in the corpus are to be found in large-scale sculptures of Milan Cathedral by followers of Annibale Fontana, toward the close of the sixteenth century, such as Francesco Brambilla the Younger and Gianan drea Biffi. Both of these artists modeled compositions for goldsmiths and bronze founders and in their larger works employed similarly cloudlike waves of hair to enframe the features.

In subject and style, the base, a symbolic depiction of Mount Golgotha, is an excellent foil for the simple display of Christ's Passion. On it are Adam's skull and several symbols of the earthly corruption over which Christ triumphed. They include snails, shells, and a hedgehog (a traditional sign of the devil), as well as impressions of actual coins. The two Roman coins, one of Nero, signify the time of Christ, while the Venetian ducat with the winged lion of Saint Mark served to bring the Passion closer to inhabitants of the Veneto. The base is the most colorful of the numerous objects that survive from Giuseppe de Levis's busy foundry. Luckily for posterity, he often signed his bronzes, and on the inner sleeve that supports the cross, this hitherto unrecorded example is signed with the familiar raised letters JOSEH / DE· LEVIS / VER · F ·, within a wreath. The signature is identical to that on a perfume-burner in the Metropolitan (41.100.84), which is dated 1599.
Signature: Signed inside base on back of sleeve for cross: IOSEH/DE.LEVIS/VER.F., within a wreath
[ Blumka Gallery , New York, until 1981; sold to MMA ]
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